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Archive for the ‘1930s’ Category

The Divorcee ; 1930

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Actors: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Robert Montgomery
Country: U.S.A.

I immediately fell in love with Norma Shearer the instant I saw her in The Women and was delighted to find that Shearer’s pre-code films were in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection. This film is the first Shearer film I’ve watched outside of The Women and I’m both disappointed yet somewhat satisfied with the film and Shearer’s performance.

I haven’t seen many pre-code films and the ones I’ve seen, I could see the difference between pre-code films and post-code films right away. But with The Divorcee, I couldn’t see anything scandalous about it for some time until Ted (Morris) said something like, “I want to make love to you until you scream for help.” and I thought, “Oh my!” I’m such a prude. I had my ups and downs with the film because I was watching this film with my modern day goggles on. I was happy that Jerry (Shearer) brought up the whole “it doesn’t mean a thing” to Ted about having an affair but I did wish that she blatantly pointed out the double standard of wives cheating on husbands versus husbands cheating on their wives. It angered me to see how lightly Ted saw cheating while he was outraged when he found out about what Jerry did. I saw Ted as a total prick because Jerry was willing to “humiliate” herself and “beg for forgiveness” but he couldn’t stand that Jerry wasn’t “proper”. While Jerry was willing to sacrifice her pride and do those things, Ted didn’t see anything wrong with his own actions thus there was nothing to apologize for. I have always been angry about the double standard for cheating and this film grated on my nerves to an extent because of that.

As for Norma Shearer’s performance, I thought that it was mediocre at first, but then her talent really came out when she tells Ted “Vanity, I’ll never forget that! And I thought your heart was breaking like mine, but instead you tell me your man’s pride can’t stand the gaffe. I don’t want to listen. I’m glad I discovered there’s more than one man in the world while I’m young and they want me. Believe me I’m not missing anything from now on.” I was disappointed at first because I was taken aback by Shearer’s twangy, unnaturally high voice that was completely different than her classy voice and accent in The Women. To me, she sounded like any other female actress during the early sound films but then again, people probably just talked like that back in the days. In the beginning scenes, I thought her acting wasn’t very convincing but as the film progressed, Shearer’s performance got better and better. It is as if the more emotion Shearer has to show, the better her acting is. Although her acting wasn’t all too terrible, I don’t think she deserved an Oscar for this performance.
While writing about actors, this was my first Conrad Nagel film! I could see his appeal although I didn’t find him to be anything special in this film. Although I do admit that I was impressed by how well he transitioned into talkies just like Shearer did.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this film. I think I’m just getting personally invested in it because I’m angry about the double standard. I also thought that this film was a B-movie rather than a MGM production despite the extravagant art deco sets and lovely clothes (by Adrian, of course). Editing is sometimes odd due to abruptness at times but at the same time, some parts of it are beautifully edited, such as the scenes of just a voiceover and Jerry’s hand.

Final decree: worth a watch for pre-code film fans!

IMDb Link: The Divorcee
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2 DVD set), Amazon.com (VHS)

La Habanera ; 1937

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Director: Detlef Sierck (Douglas Sirk)
Actors: Zarah Leander, Ferdinand Marian, Karl Martell, Julia Serda, Boris Alekin, Paul Bildt
Country: Germany

My “first” Detlef Sierck/Douglas Sirk was La Habanera (first is in quotes because I only watched 10 minutes of it in total in class because I ditched the screening. Bad Stephany, bad), but when I saw Zarah Leander with her Princess Leia hairdo, it was love at first sight. Everyone needs a little bit of Zarah Leander’s singing (and awesomeness in general) in life.

Outside of my huge crush on Zarah Leander, I found this film to be more interesting to watch as a film that was produced in the Third Reich and also as an early melodrama in Sierck’s oeuvre. Maybe because I saw this film with the mindset of “it’s a Nazi film!” that I couldn’t help but interpret it as propaganda. With its veneer as an entertainment film, one could pick out things that reflect Nazi ideology. The idea of “heimat” struck me in the beginning of the film when I saw how uncomfortable Astrée’s aunt was. Already it was a sign that she does not belong in the world of Puerto Rico, thus Astrée (Leander) doesn’t as well. Eventually Puerto Rico’s charm fades and Astrée longs for Sweden. On top of this, her child with Don Pedro (Marian) has light blonde hair and has an affinity for things related to Sweden. Spanish guy + Swedish woman = perfect Aryan child: a bit weird, isn’t it? Also note that Juan Jr. seems to get along with Dr. Nagel (Martell) more than his own father. Interesting… Everything in this film has implications that people belong where they are from and also casts a bad light on anyone who isn’t Swedish. Don Pedro’s death is his own fault, the Americans are mentioned consistently and seen as incompetent while the Swedish doctor comes and finds a cure for the “Puerto Rico fever” in just a few days. If this film was produced outside of Germany, would I have thought these things? Is it because I know that this film was made in Nazi Germany that I have these thoughts? I could probably find the idea of “heimat” in American films as well and give any film a Nazi slant if I wanted to thus is it right to assume that every film from Nazi Germany is propaganda? It’s hard for me to come to terms with the idea that every Nazi film is propaganda, but it’s also hard for me to believe that some or not all weren’t. In the end, I can probably argue for either point. Perhaps watching this film as pure entertainment can bring us a little closer to what the contemporary German audiences thought of this film. I am so conflicted because on one hand, I believe that it is important to put context and history together with films but at the same time when I get attached to films like La Habanera, I want to believe that it’s not Nazi propaganda as if somehow the Nazi Germany part leaves a stain on the film.

Anyway, going on…

I really adore Sierck’s works for some reason and La Habanera is really a gem. Not only can viewers see Sierck’s beginnings in Germany, but the lush imagery that I loved about Sierck’s Technicolor works is all in La Habanera just without the colour. Anyone who is interested in Sierck’s works should definitely put this film on their list. I really wonder what Sierck’s connection with Ufa and the Nazis were. Just how much was he in charge of the story? Nothing about the imagery shouts out “NAZI PROPAGANDA!”, but each scene seduces the viewer with its beautiful scenery and the viewer becomes a part of this film thus being seduced like Astrée was with its charm. FASCIST AESTHETICS?! I don’t know…

Acting on Leander and Marian’s part is A++. I ADORE Marian and it’s such a shame that his career, in current times, is tainted by Jüd Suß. Funny that they’re making a film about his role in Jüd Suß and the title of the upcoming film is also called the same name as the film. I really don’t think Marian would appreciate that since he didn’t want to take part in the wretched film at all. Anyway, Marian is just perfect as Don Pedro, especially in the final scenes when you can tell that he is suffering from the disease, yet he looks so delighted in the fact that Astrée is singing “La Habanera”. He tells her that he loves her and while she shuns him, I think that deep down, he does love her in his own way. Leander is great from start to finish, especially when you see the difference in her demeanor in the beginning and in the middle of the film. The change is drastic and so real that I really believed that time did take its toll on Leander herself rather than this character of Astrée. And if you’re really not a fan of dramas and love stories, at least watch the film up to the wedding scene; Astrée’s wedding dress is to die for, in a bad way.

Overall I give this film a 7.5/10. Not too bad, not all that great, but definitely worth a watch for Leander and Marian’s performance and for Sierck’s work in Germany.

IMDb Link: La Habanera
Where to buy: Amazon.com, Kino Video

Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) ; 1931

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst (G.W. Pabst)
Actors: Rudolf Forster, Carola Neher, Reinhold Schünzel, Fritz Rasp, Valeska Gert, Lotte Lenya, Hermann Thimig, Ernst Busch
Country: Germany

Aw, this entry is the final one for the Pabst marathon, boo~ I hope that I’ll be able to get my hands on his other films and post about them because he is amazing beyond words. If anyone has Pabst films they would like to write about, please read the “contribute” section on the sidebar! It would be great to have more entries on Pabst films.

This film is probably the oddest Pabst film I have watched. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it because I think that it’s a highly enjoyable and likable film, but it’s quite quirky. Even the beginning starts with a black screen with only Ernst Busch singing. When the film starts, it still confuses the viewer because it’s a shot of a man and a woman (who we later find out is Mackie Messer/Mack the Knife and Jenny) and then he wants to distance himself from her after he sees another woman walk by and then there is this whole scene for about 7 minutes or so when you have no idea who is who and what in the world is going on. Sorry for the run-on sentence! Maybe it was just me being dumb, but I was consistently thinking, “What is going on? Why is the screen black? Why do I only hear music? IS THIS DVD DEFUNCT?! Who is that man? WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HIM AND HER? IS HE GOING TO KILL HER?!” But in the end, I was content.

The film made me very confused because I liked Mackie Messer, but at the same time, I really wanted to hate him. I was amazed at Polly’s courageousness, wit, and calmness in every scene. If I knew that my husband was cheating on me only after a few days of marriage, I would be the raging psycho. But then again, Polly does have that song she sings on her wedding day so… (by the way, her wedding dress is beautiful. I was jealous.) Also, the song about Mackie Messer mentions all these horrible things that he did but it’s hard to imagine him doing such things. And what’s the whole thing with him and Jenny. I was very, very confused even after the second time watching it.

I absolutely ADORE all the songs in this film. I read that most songs from the actual play aren’t in the film and the context of the songs changed as well, but nonetheless, I think this film did a great job with the script and the placement of songs. I haven’t read or watched the play but I really enjoyed this film. I think it’s crucial for Brecht or Weill fans to embrace the film for what it is and not just as something that Brecht didn’t approve of or something that follows Brecht’s vision. Separate Brecht from this film and I think everyone would like it. While Brecht wanted a film that was more politically charged and a biting satire, I felt that Pabst’s film had a critique of everyone shown in the film. Whether you are poor, the petty bourgeois, or even in a high ranked position, everyone is corrupt. Even the whole idea of Peachum’s company is absolutely absurd and a satire within itself.

The actors of this film were great and the editing and direction of this film was perfect; I have no complaints about this film whatsoever. I love the way Mackie says, “Hello Jackie!” and Tiger Brown says, “Hello. Mackie.” Ah and the final shot! This film is so full of awesomeness that I can compile a huge list of things I like about it. I even liked Fritz Rasp as Peachum and I hated him in silent films! Two thumbs up and I would definitely put it on a list of films to watch before you die. Pabst, homeboy, you did me proud.

I just have to add as a side note that I’m incredibly sad that Carola Neher, who played Polly Peachum, wasn’t in more films and died prematurely BECAUSE OF MY PSEUDO-LOVER GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIM. She was amazing as Polly and I loved her to bits. For those who are like, “Huh?” about who Gustav von Wangenheim is, he’s mostly known to the general public as Hutter in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. DAMN YOU GUSTAV!!! And while I’m at this, Lotte Lenya, who played Jenny, is amazing as well. And, and, HOW CAN I FORGET HERMANN THIMIG! I have a silly crush on him because he is so adorable.

IMDb Link: Die Dreigroschenoper
Where to buy: Amazon.com

The Women ; 1939

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Director: George Cukor
Actors: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Phyllis Povah, Joan Fontaine, Virginia Weidler
Country: U.S.A.

George Cukor’s The Women has got to be one of my favourite films. Not only is it highly enjoyable, but the lines, the acting, the clothes, and the pace of it is all perfect. I never watched the play version of it, but I sure do like this film! It was the film that introduced me to Norma Shearer and I absolutely fell in love with her. It was also my first Joan Crawford film and I found her to be an amazing actress. I have read complaints about Shearer’s acting, but I thought she was really great and wasn’t overacting at all. My favourite scene has got to be when she says, “I’ve had two years to grow claws mother. Jungle red!” It’s such a shame that a once famous actress and the queen of MGM is now long forgotten.

Although there are some remarks that may make modern women cringe, I thought that the overall portrayal of women was incredibly accurate. Watching these women’s actions were almost looking at a mirror and I could relate to almost every character. Mary Haines (Shearer) is nobel and she sure knows how to get revenge! Sylvia Fowler (Russell) has the most outrageous clothes and hats (ref. Picture 2) and is the biggest blabbermouth ever. She is also someone who enjoys seeing other in pain, probably due to her not-so-great relationship with her husband. And Joan Crawford as Crystal Allen… my, my! She is fabulous and whereas Crystal is quite a… for the lack of better words, a bitch, I can sympathize to a certain extent. Actually, I wish I can be like her! She is gorgeous and knows how to fend for herself using words. Her final line, “There is a name for you, ladies, but it isn’t used in high society… outside of a kennel.”, is a perfect way to make an exit; while she did admit defeat, she at least got to say something nasty in a calm manner and leave in a superficially classy way.

All I can really say about this film is that it is FABULOUS and a film that everyone should watch once. I have watched it multiple times and it never fails to put a smile on my face. So many of the things mentioned in this film are true to this day and it’s really fun to see a glimpse into how high society women lived in those days. Seeing Rosalind Russell do all those exercises was hilarious and seeing how women got perms and facials was interesting as well.

IMDb Link: The Women
Where to buy: Amazon.com

The Awful Truth ; 1937

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Director: Leo McCarey
Actors: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D’Arcy, Cecil Cunningham
Country: U.S.A.

The Awful Truth… my God! What CAN I say about this film? There are just too many things that I love about it that I wouldn’t be able to list them all. It is definitely on my list of favourite comedies and each actor’s performance was top notch. I never found Irene Dunne to be that attractive nor was I ever interested in her, but after I watched this film, I fell in love with her and wanted to learn more about her and watch her other films. The cinematography, the dialogue, the scenes, ALL ARE PERFECT. I love how the way a certain scene is shot reflects the situation, such as when Lucy (Dunne), Jerry (Grant), Dan (Bellamy), and Dixie Bell (Joyce Compton) are all sitting together (ref. Picture 1) and then the camera focuses on Lucy and Jerry even though they are no longer a couple. Anyway, this film is truly a delightful one that I think anyone would enjoy it. How could anyone not enjoy the great lines and moments that this film has? Sure, the portrayal of the Asian man may be a bit racist, but as long as people are aware of the stereotypes and how Asians were portrayed in those times, it is a bit more understandable. I wasn’t offended at all (I had to pause the film and laugh/cry for over a minute), but I can see why people might be. If you are easily offended, at least you are aware of the implications, which I congratulate you for. Although usually I get riled up about it, just the way the scene played out was hilarious, especially the well Cary Grant fell and then got back at the Asian… assistant? Secretary? Receptionist? And the closing scene! The line that Lucy says about things being the same if they were different is so well-spoken and well-worded that I love it.

Ah, and Irene Dunne’s “come hither” look! My eyes turned into hearts and I had to fan myself because her face expression was too seductive. Really, who needs sex scenes when a woman can look at a man the way Dunne did in this movie? It’s so much sexier than anything I have seen in ANY film. I wish I was able to imitate the way Dunne acted in the whole end scene because I’m sure that I’ll be able to seduce anyone! Well, maybe not, but I wouldn’t mind looking like Irene Dunne or be able to act and sing like her. Anyway, this screencapture does not do her come hither look justice! On top of Dunne’s face expressions, the way the whole scene plays out is flawless. Every move by the actors, every shot, every… oh I don’t know!, but trust me, it wraps up the film really well.

In my film class, we discussed Dunne’s extravagant hats and how they all pointed up. My professor mentioned how these hats pretty much served no purpose outside of being a decoration on people’s heads and if people were wealthy enough, why not buy these hats? Then it reminded me of Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and how the hat Ninotchka is wearing in the screencapture was a symbol of decadence. As Ninotchka says in the film

How can such a civilization survive which permits women to put things like that on their heads. It won’t be long now, comrades.

As the Envoy Extraordinary of the U.S.S.R., Ninotchka does not understand capitalistic ideals, but when she buys the hat, it is her succumbing to the way people in Paris live rather than in Moscow. While Dunne’s hats in this film look silly to the modern viewer, they were most likely in vogue during those days and probably rather pricey at that! So who can afford those hats? Definitely Lucy Warriner! The shape of Lucy’s hat definitely reminded me of Ninotchka’s silly hat, especially because of the shape of it. It’s funny how both of them point up, sort of like crowns.

Anyway, I didn’t really go into any scenes because there are so many great scenes that all fit together. I can’t imagine this film with a scene missing because each one has such great moments and every character at least has one great line. And Ralph Bellamy! Once again, his character has his lady taken away by Cary Grant (ref. His Girl Friday); poor guy… But really, I can’t emphasize enough how amazing this film is. It is definitely one of the best screwball comedies!

IMDb Link: The Awful Truth
Where to buy: Amazon.com